Dad was always a bit of an anomaly. He was born near the end of World War I in rural Ontario Canada; one of six children born to poor farmers. Dad was born at home, and as children he would have us believe that minutes after he was born and cleaned up, both he and my Grandmother went out to work the fields.
As a quick interjection, my father used to say (as I’m sure many fathers did), “There are 2 things you can’t avoid…death and taxes.” Well, Dad beat the odds most of his life and in his own true fashion he passed on April 15 (tax day) not having filed his taxes for that year.
The real story here is the many ways Dad beat the odds to live 90+ years having experienced more in his life than most of us are capable of remembering, much less living. The number and severity of physical challenges he met head on were literally a whole chapter in a book written by his childhood family doctor. At age nine he was severely burned from his hips to his ankles when a fuel oil drum he was straddling exploded. After the explosion, one of the ends of the barrel was found a half mile away. As with every story that follows, my Dad had a way of telling the story and then in his usual unassuming and humorous way, he would cap the story with a quip. He explained that when the barrel exploded, he was thrown away from it with his clothes on fire. My Aunts and Uncles who were there pulled off their clothing to beat and smother the flames engulfing Dad. When asked what happened next, he would say, “Well, once they got the flames out…I took up smoking.”
Between 1942 and 1946 Dad made 17 trips to Europe carrying supplies for the war effort on convoys that were regularly being shot at by German U-Boats. During those 4 years more than half of the ships Dad sailed on were damaged or sunk by attacks…but never when he was on them! What incredible odds! I asked him what he thought of that and his reply was…”Oh, I think God was just looking out for me because he knew I was a lousy swimmer.” The photo (right) is Dad’s passport photo at age 26 (not his happy face).
Dad’s stories go on. I have always been amazed at how he took what he was faced with, conquered it, moved on and never complained. A partial list of what he went through in my lifetime includes Gall Bladder, Thyroid, ulcer surgery, knee replacement (he had both knees replaced TWICE), hip surgery (both hips), quadruple bypass, eye surgery, ear surgery, colon surgery (10 days after his quadruple bypass)…and on and on. I asked Dad about having to go through knee replacement 4 times, and he responded"Well God didn't guarantee the first set, so I guess I can't be too hard on the Doctor, he's only human."
On Dad’s 90th birthday we talked at length about everything he had experienced and been through in his life, and I marveled that he had survived it all. He simply replied, “Well, if cats have 9 lives…I guess I’m 2 of the toughest cats you’ve ever met.”
In October of 2006 at age 90 while working in his garden, Dad fell and broke an elbow. This injury triggered a series of events and health failures that progressed until he was hospitalized in January 2007, and never came home again.
During the 8 months that followed his injury, I pretty much spent most of my waking hours with him making sure that he was taken care of and holding the Doctors to task. I sat down and talked with him one night for several hours. He was weak and tired but lucid. He put his hand on the back of my neck, pulling me down to his face. Dad kissed me on the forehead and whispered to me, “Son, I love you. I don’t think I can start over again.”
Dad passed early Sunday morning, 2 days later.
I love you too Dad.
I’m just saying!